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30 Best Star Trek: The Next Generation Episodes Ranked

The first ever "Star Trek" spin-off, "The Next Generation," ran for seven seasons between 1987 and 1994. It defied conventional wisdom by reinventing the notion of what "Star Trek" was, introducing audiences to an entirely new ship and crew.

Living in the shadow of Kirk and Spock early on, most agree that the first two seasons disappointed, even if they showed a lot of promise (the troubled production of these initial seasons became the subject of the 2014 HBO documentary "Chaos on the Bridge"). But "The Next Generation" would become one of the best sci-fi shows ever once it found its footing and came into its own in its third year. With 178 episodes during its run, there are dozens of all-time greats, many of which just narrowly miss making this list. Episodes like "Remember Me," "The Wounded," and "Sins Of The Father" are all worthy watches, but here are the 30 that rank as the best according to IMDb.

30. Chain of Command, Pt. I

The sixth-season episode "Chain of Command, Pt. I" opens with Riker and the crew shocked when Starfleet removes Captain Picard from command and gives the Enterprise over to Captain Edward Jellico ("Robocop" villain Ronny Cox). But we soon learn that Picard, along with Doctor Crusher and Lieutenant Worf, is actually being sent on a covert mission inside Cardassian territory to stop a dangerous biogenic weapon, while Jellico is ordered to take the ship to the demilitarized zone to negotiate with the Cardassians. 

Even before Picard leaves, there's tension in the air. The Enterprise crew view their new captain as demanding and overbearing, while Jellico views them as soft and lazy. But though audiences may have assumed the change of command was just for a single story, the episode ends on a shocking cliffhanger that leaves the future of the entire series up in the air.

29. Family

"Family" is the direct follow-up to the beloved "Best Of Both Worlds" two-parter that saw the captain turned into the Borg villain Locutus. As part of his recovery, Picard takes a vacation to his home village in France, staying with his brother Robert and his family. The pair of siblings have a strained relationship, but Picard finally opens up to Robert about his traumatic experience with the Borg, giving fans a new insight into the soul of the Enterprise's captain.

In a B-story, Worf is visited by his human foster parents while the ship is docked above Earth. The two are concerned for Worf, who is still dealing with his exile from the Klingon Empire the previous season, and offer their support. Together, the two family-related plots form the backbone of an episode with no space action or alien contact, but with drama that is much more poignant and personal.

28. Reunion

"Reunion" features the return of Lieutenant Worf's lover K'Ehleyr, previously seen hooking up with the Enterprise's Klingon security officer in Season 2. This time, she comes aboard with news of an impending Klingon war, and has come at the request of Chancellor K'mpec, who is on his deathbed. After he dies, he needs Picard to ferret out the man who poisoned him: one of the two men vying for the leadership of the Empire. Newcomer Gowron is one suspect, but the other is Duras, who had framed Worf's father to cover up his own family's dishonor in the Season 3 episode "Sins Of The Father."

When K'ehleyr arrives, however, she also brings a surprise: Alexander, the child she bore with Worf two seasons earlier. An important episode that changes the lives of several characters and introduces the fan-favorite Gowron, "Reunion" is also a key piece of the story of Worf's family honor that would continue throughout "The Next Generation" and into "Deep Space Nine" — his son Alexander would become a recurring character in both series.

27. The Drumhead

Retired and revered Rear Admiral Norah Satie comes to investigate the Enterprise in "The Drumhead" when there appears to be a saboteur onboard. After a rogue Klingon exchange officer is caught stealing information, the case is seemingly closed, but when the warp core is damaged in an apparent act of sabotage, Satie comes to believe there are others involved. What follows is a dark tale that sees the admiral peeling back layers of what she thinks is a vast conspiracy.

But after exposing a young officer who lied about his heritage to get into Starfleet, Satie threatens to drag everyone into her web of suspicion, even Captain Picard. "The Drumhead" is a fascinating look at paranoia and how fear can be used to subvert democracy, spreading like a disease, all in the name of freedom and liberty. It's a cautionary tale, and one of "Star Trek's" most timeless political parables.

26. The Next Phase

"The Next Phase" adds a new stunning piece of advanced technology to "Star Trek" lore when the Enterprise comes to the aid of a disabled Romulan ship experimenting with a "phasing cloak." When the ship's transporter mixes up LaForge and Ensign Ro, the pair become trapped in a kind of limbo, cloaked and phased so they can pass through ordinary matter. Unable to communicate with anyone else aboard the Enterprise, the situation escalates when they overhear the Romulan commander tell his crew to rig the ship so that the Enterprise will be destroyed when they activate their warp drive.

With the clock ticking, Geordi and Ro must find a way to warn their shipmates and return to their normal state, all while being pursued by a Romulan who they find trapped out of phase with them. Fast, fun, and exciting, "The Next Phase" is one of the series' most thrilling adventures.

25. Time's Arrow Pt. I

The fifth-season cliffhanger finale "Time's Arrow" opens with archaeologists uncovering Data's head buried beneath San Francisco. Realizing the discovery means that at some point in the future Data will be hurled back in time to the 19th century, where he will die, Picard attempts to keep Data safe from this lethal destiny. But when an unusual signal leads the Enterprise to discover an alien race who is traveling into the past and murdering humans in 1893 to absorb their life force, the Captain realizes it may simply be Data's fate to die in the past. 

Sent back in time, Data allies himself with the 19th-century version of the Enterprise's bartender, Guinan, who turns out to be far older than anyone ever realized. At the same time, he's also brought to the attention of Mark Twain, who will become an unexpected adversary in the second half of the two-part adventure. Though not the most bombastic of episodes, it proves its worth as a classic "Trek" time travel story.

24. Unification Pt. II

After the reveal that Leonard Nimoy would be returning as Mr. Spock in the Season 5 two-parter "Unification," some fans were left disappointed when his appearance in the first part was limited to a single scene in the closing moments. But he takes center stage in "Unification, Pt. II," which sees Spock on Romulus after apparently defecting from the Federation. Picard and Data — disguised as Romulans themselves — find that Spock is working with an underground sect that wants to reunify the Romulans with their Vulcan cousins.

The episode also featured the unexpected return of the Romulan villain Commander Sela and includes some classic moments between Spock and the "Next Generation" crew, particularly Data. Picard and Spock, meanwhile, share some of the most important and thoughtful interactions in all of the series, and in his final television performance as his Vulcan character, Nimoy delivers a momentous performance.

23. Redemption, Pt. II

Season 5 opener "Redemption, Pt. II" concluded the cliffhanger from the fourth-season finale, revealing the mastermind behind the Romulan alliance with the Klingon Duras family to be Commander Sela, who claims to be the daughter of long-dead Enterprise security chief Tasha Yar. As the two Klingon factions — led by Chancellor Gowron and the Duras sisters — duke it out for the fate of the Empire, Worf resigns his commission and joins the fight. Picard and the Enterprise had previously vowed to remain neutral, but now devise a plan to expose Romulan involvement.

The plan, involving a fleet of Federation starships forming a blockade around the Neutral Zone, puts Data in the captain's chair of the USS Sutherland, where he must contend with the bigoted Lieutenant Hobson. An episode filled with drama, it gives both Worf and Data some of their best, most satisfying moments in the series.

22. Redemption, Pt. I

"Redemption, Pt. I," the Season 4 finale, opens with Gowron requesting that Captain Picard see through his commitment to help install him as the new Klingon Chancellor. But a challenger appears in the form of a young warrior named Toral, brought forward by the Duras sisters, who themselves are the surviving kin to the man Worf killed in combat in "Reunion." Known traitors, the House of Duras cannot be trusted, but Picard — as the Klingon Arbiter of Succession — is duty-bound to consider their claim.

When Toral is dismissed as possible leader of the Empire, a Klingon civil war begins. But all is not as it seems — Worf suspects that the Duras sisters are getting help from the Romulans, and leaves Starfleet to aid in Gowron's fight against them. Full of twists and turns, it doesn't quite match the legendary Season 3 finale, but it comes close.

21. The Defector

"The Defector" is classic "Trek" — a gripping political drama, the story of an enemy soldier who defects to the Federation, risking his life to help avert a war. Claiming to be a low-level logistics clerk, a Romulan officer named Setal insists that his people are readying for an all-out invasion, and he has deserted his homeworld to warn the Federation. Picard is skeptical, as to prove Setal's claims, the Enterprise must enter the Neutral Zone in violation of the Federation's treaty with the Romulan Empire, and at the risk of starting a war.

Stuck in this quandary, Picard and his crew must decide whether Setal is telling the truth and truly trying to help, or is in fact attempting to bait him into being an aggressor. With the stakes so high, "The Defector" is a tension-filled episode that ends in a dramatic and surprising conclusion — particularly when Setal's true identity is revealed.

20. The Offspring

An important and sometimes overlooked episode, the "The Offspring" sees Commander Data create his own android child named Lal. Choosing her own appearance and gender identity, Lal becomes a young human woman with a naive but wide-eyed and wondrous outlook and personality. But things take a dark turn when a Starfleet admiral arrives to take Lal away, claiming that the creation of a new android life needs to be carefully overseen by Federation experts. Torn between loyalty to Data and his duty to Starfleet, Picard once again finds himself fighting for the rights of androids to make their own choices. 

A quasi-sequel to the iconic Season 2 episode "The Measure of A Man" but overshadowed by bigger episodes that sandwiched it, "The Offspring" is an intimate character piece with a classic moral dilemma and an emotional ending, and received renewed attention thanks to its importance to the plot of the first season of "Star Trek: Picard."

19. The Pegasus

Season 7's "The Pegasus" begins with the arrival of Admiral Erik Pressman, who happens to be Riker's old captain from the titular starship Pegasus. He comes with new orders for Picard, telling him that the Pegasus wasn't destroyed as had been previously believed, and has been found buried in an asteroid field ... and the Romulans are after it.

It's soon revealed that the Pegasus was once used to test an experimental Federation cloaking device, an act specifically prohibited in the treaty with the Romulans. Commander Riker's loyalty is questioned when he is ordered to keep the secret of the Pegasus, and he's forced to choose between his two captains when the Enterprise falls into a Romulan trap. "Lost" star Terry O'Quinn makes a memorable appearance as Pressman, while Picard and Riker get into some heated exchanges about mortality and integrity that make "The Pegasus" a nail-biter of an episode.

18. Deja Q

The only pure comedy episode on this list, "Deja Q" earns its place as one of the best episodes of "The Next Generation" thanks to the sharp wit and strong performance of John De Lancie, who returns once again to serve as a thorn in Picard's side. As the immortal trickster Q, he arrives on the Enterprise claiming he has lost his god-like powers and has been exiled from his people in the Q Continuum. He asks for a safe haven aboard Picard's ship, which becomes a cry for help when a race of beings shows up to get vengeance on him for tormenting them in the past.

Most of the humor of the episode comes from Q slowly learning the basics of being mortal, from nightly sleep to being hungry to crippling back pain. But "Deja Q" also includes many touching moments involving Data, who somewhat ironically attempts to show Q what it means to be human.

17. Relics

After featuring Spock the previous season, Season 6 dips back into the original "Star Trek" series lore with "Relics," the episode that brings back Enterprise-A chief engineer Montgomery Scott. Having apparently survived for 75 years by storing himself within his ship's transporter, "Scotty" re-materializes aboard the Enterprise-D during an investigation of a fantastic alien Dyson Sphere and is warmly greeted, but soon begins to feel out of place in the 24th century. When the Enterprise gets trapped inside the Dyson Sphere, it's up to Scotty and his engineering successor, Geordi LaForge, to save them.

Ultimately, the return of Scotty is a touching story about aging and the need to feel useful in an ever-changing world. While the genius former engineer feels that the future has left him behind, he soon discovers that he still has plenty of life left in him, and a lot to offer the 24th century.

16. Ship In A Bottle

A sequel to one of the better Season 2 episodes, the Season 6 follow-up "Ship In A Bottle" ties up what might have wound up an unresolved plotline. It begins when a self-aware hologram of Professor James Moriarty — Sherlock Holmes' ultimate nemesis in the stories by Arthur Conan Doyle — appears on the holodeck demanding to see Captain Picard. After Data and Geordi unwittingly gave him sentience in "Elementary, Dear Data," Moriarty's program has been trapped in the holodeck computer for years, and now he wants to leave. But as far as Picard and crew believe, it's simply not scientifically possible.

But Moriarty has a plan and takes control of the ship, threatening to destroy it if his demands aren't met. What follows is a mind-bending "Inception"-style adventure where Moriarity and Picard — with the help of Data and the neurotic recurring character Reginald Barclay — attempt to trick each other with dueling holodeck-within-a-holodeck scenarios that will leave your head spinning.

15. Timescape

Stories that play with time have been a staple of "Star Trek" since the beginning, and time-bending episodes are often among the franchise's best. "Timescape" is no exception. Returning to the Enterprise from a science conference, Picard, Geordi, Data, and Troi discover the Enterprise and a Romulan warbird frozen in time, seemingly in the midst of battle. Going aboard, they find the crews frozen, as well — both ships are trapped in a strange anomaly, and any attempt to unfreeze them in time risks killing several members of the Enterprise crew, who are apparently under attack by Romulan soldiers.

When Picard becomes incapacitated, the remaining trio must figure out what's really happening, despite interference from mysterious pair of Romulans who, like them, are able to move freely about the Enterprise. With loads of fun, sci-fi time-altering shenanigans, and its far share of twists, "Timescape" is an episode full of surprises.

14. Darmok

Among the most famous episodes of the series, "Darmok" may not rank in the top 10, but it comes close. The story sees Captain Picard kidnapped and brought to the surface of an unknown planet along with a ship captain from a species known as the Children of Tama, whose language has proven indecipherable despite the Federation's universal translator technology. Trapped together on the alien world and forced to work together to fight a deadly beast, Picard and his fellow captain find common ground and slowly learn to communicate.

The unusual language structure devised for the episode proved groundbreaking — it's been pointed out that the Tamarian "language" predicted Internet meme culture, and it's even been used to teach college courses. The uniqueness of this language is one of those fascinating concepts that could only be seen in science fiction, and the episode as a whole is quintessentially "Star Trek," with a universal message of friendship, tolerance, and understanding.

13. I, Borg

The compassion of Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise is on full display in the Season 5 episode "I, Borg." Coming upon the wreckage of a Borg ship, Doctor Crusher convinces the captain to bring the last surviving drone aboard to save his life. But while Picard's intentions are initially less selfless — he hopes to use the drone to destroy the entire collective — he comes around when he realizes that this new Borg is showing signs of personhood, even taking the name Hugh.

An example of the moral and ethical dilemmas often faced in "Star Trek," Picard ultimately abandons his plans for revenge against the Borg and allows Hugh to decide his own fate. Realizing the Borg won't stop looking for him, Hugh returns to the Collective, with the hope being that his sense of individuality will survive and spread. It proves to be one of Picard's best decisions — Hugh would return later in "The Next Generation," and again in the first season of "Star Trek: Picard."

12. Lower Decks

The story that inspired the modern adult animated comedy of the same name, "Lower Decks" was a unique episode of "The Next Generation" that focused on a group of younger officers: Nurse Alyssa Ogawa, Ensign Sam Lavelle, the Vulcan Ensign Taurik, and the Bajoran Ensign Sito Jaxa, who had previously been seen getting into trouble at Starfleet Academy in the Season 5 episode "The First Duty." Now, the young officers are all up for promotions, and as their friendship is tested by their career ambitions, we see the struggles, challenges, and everyday life of the lower-ranking officers serving on the Enterprise.

Meanwhile, Jaxa is confronted by Picard about her troubled past, a prelude to her assignment to a dangerous mission to return a Cardassian defector to his people. A generally upbeat story, "Lower Decks" is a fun detour from the senior bridge crew, but it ends on a surprisingly bittersweet note.

11. Chain Of Command, Pt. II

A darker episode than most on this list, "Chain Of Command, Pt. II" concludes a two-part episode that saw Picard kidnapped by the Cardassians on a mission to stop a rumored doomsday weapon. At the mercy of a cunning Cardassian named Gul Madred, he resists and becomes the subject of brutal psychological torture. Over the course of the episode, it becomes clear that while Madred definitely wants to acquire Federation secrets, the thing he wants most of all is to break Picard's spirit.

Meanwhile, on the Enterprise, Jellico is clashing with Commander Riker, who feels his new captain is too controlling. But Riker may also be the only man who can execute Jellico's daring plan to expose the Cardassian plot and save Captain Picard. Picard's defiant shout of "There are four lights!" puts an iconic capper on one of the better late-series episodes.

10. Parallels

Years before Marvel's "Loki," the "Next Generation" Season 7 episode "Parallels" put the multiverse front and center when Worf inadvertently passes through a split in the barriers between universes. Moving between them throughout the episode, Worf finds himself in new and different realities: some where Riker is captain, some where he is married to Counselor Troi, and some where the Bajorans are the Federation's greatest enemy. 

Another trippy sci-fi story, most of the fun is in the first half as Worf struggles to figure out what's happening to the world around him as events and people change before his eyes, though the episode also features a daringly ambitious climax. The various windows into what might have been are intriguing, and "Parallels" even takes the opportunity to bring back Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher. It also introduces the first spark of romance between Worf and Troi, a sub-plot that would continue through the remainder of the show's final season. 

9. Tapestry

Q has traditionally been a major pain for Picard and other Starfleet captains, but he returns in "Tapestry" in the surprising role of benevolent spiritual advisor. Picard is actually killed in the opening moments of the episode, only to greeted by the all-powerful trickster in the apparent afterlife, who offers Picard a chance to relive his past and change moments that he regrets.

Returning to his days as an ensign fresh out of the Academy, Picard hopes to avoid the reckless behavior that got him stabbed through the heart in a bar fight as a young man while also pursuing a romance with one-time friend Marta Batanides. In trying to bring his older wisdom to his younger self, however, he learns that life's mistakes help us to become who we are. A "Star Trek" version of "A Christmas Carol," the heartwarming message of "Tapestry" makes it one of the series' best.

8. All Good Things...

Often voted among television's best series finales"All Good Things..." capped off the show's remarkable seven-year run with an epic feature-length episode that saw Picard revisit events in both the future and the past. Harkening back to the series' very first episode, "Encounter at Farpoint," we see Picard once again on trial before the Q Continuum, attempting to prove the value of humanity's existence by piecing together clues to a potentially world-ending mystery in three different time periods.

As Picard struggles to convince three different crews that what's happening is real, he must find answers to a puzzle that stretches back to the dawn of time to save his entire species. Full of drama, action, and emotion, it was just about everything a fan could want in a finale. While the episode would be one of the series' best on its own, it works even better as a final bookend to "The Next Generation."

7. Cause and Effect

 "Cause and Effect" is a near-perfect science fiction riddle. Opening in the middle of the action, the Enterprise is destroyed in a shocking scene before the opening credits even roll. Coming back from the iconic "Star Trek" music and fanfare, we find the crew is trapped in an endless loop of time that inevitably leads to the ship's destruction, and worse — they have no idea it's happening. Thinking each loop is the first time through, the crew struggles to even realize what's going on, let alone collect the clues to figure out how to stop it before they all blow up yet again.

With the destruction of the Enterprise occurring just before each commercial break, it's a maddening but mind-blowing story that will leave you on the edge of your seat until the very last moments. And don't forget to keep your eyes peeled for a memorable cameo from Frasier himself, Kelsey Grammer.

6. Q Who

The fourth episode to feature Q on this list, Season 2 entry "Q Who" saw the more sinister aspect of the god-like being, who arrives on the Enterprise and asks to join the crew. Picard, of course, turns him down. Incensed and hoping to prove to Picard that humanity is not ready for what awaits them amongst the stars, Q flings the ship into a distant uncharted region of space. There they encounter, for the first time, the mysterious race of cybernetic beings known as the Borg. They also learn that Ten Forward bartender Guinan is already familiar with the hostile hive mind, which annihilated her home world.

An important episode in the series, and "Star Trek" as a whole, it's also one of the best — a well-paced thriller that has Picard at first hoping to prove Q wrong and attempting to make peace with the Borg, but ending with an ominous warning that foreshadows not one but two of our remaining entries.

5. The Measure Of A Man

A landmark episode that has been analyzed by legal scholars, Season 2 standout "The Measure Of A Man" puts android Commander Data in the spotlight when a brilliant cyberneticist named Bruce Maddox arrives and wants to disassemble him so he can recreate his positronic brain. Data doesn't approve of the risky procedure, but Maddox states that Data is the property of Starfleet and cannot decline. Picard fights back against this notion and demands a hearing so that he can defend Data's rights. However, the hearing takes place at a poorly-staffed starbase, and Commander Riker is forced to act as prosecutor against Data, despite his personal feelings for his fellow officer.

One of the franchise's best examination of ethics and human rights, it's also one of its most important, as "The Measure of a Man" explores issues that would be revisited again in many future episodes, both in "The Next Generation" and other "Trek" spin-off series. Maddox would even return in the first season of "Star Trek: Picard" in a quasi-sequel that explores the fallout from the work of Noonian Soong, Data's creator.

4. Yesterday's Enterprise

"Yesterday's Enterprise" takes place in a darker alternate timeline created when the Enterprise-C, predecessor to the ship captained by Picard, finds itself thrust 22 years forward in time. Without its sacrifice at a crucial moment in the past, all of history was altered, and now Picard's Enterprise is a warship, with the Federation engaged in a bitter conflict with the Klingons — and on the verge of defeat.

But the arrival of the Enterprise-C adds new complications to an impending Klingon attack, and when Picard learns that the war was never supposed to happen, he struggles with the decision to send it and its crew back to their proper time to face certain death. The episode that saw the return of long-departed cast member Denise Crosby as Tasha Yar, it's an important piece of "Next Generation" lore, and possibly the best alternate reality episode in the entire franchise. 

3. The Best Of Both Worlds, Pt. II

Opening up Season 4, "The Best Of Both Worlds, Pt. II" is the thrilling second part of one of television history's best cliffhangers. The previous episode had ended with Commander Riker giving the order to open fire on the Borg cube that held Locutus — the assimilated Borg drone that had once been Captain Picard. Audiences who had waited all summer for the attack tuned in to see the cube survive unharmed, and Riker and the Enterprise helpless as the Borg launch a direct assault on Earth.

After Starfleet loses a devastating battle with the Borg at Wolf 359, it's up to Riker to devise a bold last-ditch plan to rescue Picard and save Earth from assimilation. The series' most gripping season conclusion, it's an episode that "Star Trek" has still never been able to match in terms of sheer anticipation and excitement.

2. The Best Of Both Worlds, Pt. I

As a stunning season finale and the first cliff-hanger of the franchise, "The Best Of Both Worlds, Pt. 1" could rightfully be credited as the episode that turned "The Next Generation" into a genuine pop culture phenomenon. Discovering a Federation colony decimated in the same manner as the alien civilization they found destroyed by the Borg in "Q Who," Picard alerts Starfleet that a confrontation may be near. Admiral Hanson arrives with a new officer, Lieutenant Commander Shelby, to help with the crisis. 

The ambitious Shelby adds an interesting layer in what turns out to be a Riker-focused episode, as the title refers to Riker's struggles with whether to leave the Enterprise to become a captain of a lesser ship, or stay and remain Picard's first officer. When his captain is abducted by the Borg and declared lost, Riker gets the best of both worlds — at the cost of Jean-Luc Picard.

1. The Inner Light

"The Inner Light" isn't just the best "Next Generation" episode — there's an argument to be made that it's the best "Star Trek" episode, period. The story begins when the Enterprise comes upon an alien probe that zaps Picard unconscious right off the bat. The captain awakens on an alien world, in another life. Here on the planet Kataan, in the community called Ressik, Picard is a man named Kamin, with a wife named Eline. After giving up on ever finding the Enterprise, which seems to have been just a dream, Picard settles into his new life, even having children and grandchildren, all while Kataan is slowly dying of drought.

Now an old man nearing death, Picard learns that the probe was a messenger that carried memories of a long-dead civilization, and wakes up on the Enterprise having experienced an entire lifetime over the course of a few minutes. An example of what made "The Next Generation" so special, the episode's message of love, hope, and family help it remain one of the most beloved pieces of television ever conceived.